In a dig at his predecessor, President Biden on Tuesday said that he would not “shock our allies” with new travel bans linked to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
But Biden notably glossed over his own actions that surprised friendly countries, such as his AUKUS submarine pact that snubbed France and the sudden South Africa travel ban.
“Unlike Trump I don’t shock our allies,” Biden told reporters in Minnesota when asked how he would coordinate any new travel restrictions after discovery of the potentially more contagious variant.
Biden made vaguely disapproving remarks last year after then-President Donald Trump banned travel from early virus hotspots, but on Friday Biden banned travel to the US from eight southern African countries — drawing complaints from the regions’ leaders, who note the variant’s increased transmissibility hasn’t been confirmed.
Biden this year surprised US allies on a variety of issues, despite often making a point of saying he was restoring frayed US relationships after Trump’s “America First” mantra.
For example, he didn’t consult Australia ahead of announcing the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite Australian troops fighting alongside Americans throughout the 20-year war.
To smooth over hard feelings, Biden shocked a different US ally, France, by announcing the AUKUS pact to build nuclear submarines for Australia.
The pact included the UK but excluded France, which recalled its US ambassador in protest. A French company lost a more than $60 billion contract to build conventional submarines and France’s diplomats weren’t told in advance.
Biden apologized to French President Emmanuel Macron last month, saying, “I was under the impression that France had been informed long before. I honest to God did not know you had not been.”
Although South Africa is not technically a US military ally, it’s a long-term strategic partner and expressed outrage at Biden’s Omicron ban after the country’s scientists detected the new variant, which has a high number of mutations that may allow it to evade vaccines.
South African Foreign Minister Pandor called Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday to convey his country’s displeasure.
Trump’s travel bans last year swiftly shut down travel by non-Americans from China in late January 2020 and from most of Europe in March 2020 when countries including Italy became hotspots following the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China.
On the same day as Trump’s China travel ban was announced, Biden said on an Iowa campaign stage, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysterical xenophobia and fear mongering to lead the way instead of science.”
Though he did not specifically mention the China travel ban, Biden one day later slammed “Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.” Months later, Trump said Biden wrongfully called him prejudiced for prudent restrictions and Biden’s aides denied he opposed the policies.
In March 2020, one day after Trump banned travel from Europe, Biden again gave the appearance he opposed the policy.
“A wall will not stop the coronavirus. Banning all travel from Europe — or any other part of the world — will not stop it. This disease could impact every nation and any person on the planet — and we need a plan to combat it,” Biden tweeted.
Biden ultimately kept in place the US bans on travel from Europe, China and other countries until this month — long after Trump wanted to end most restrictions.